Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #713
Number of Views: One
Release Date: January 25, 2013
Country of Origin: United States, Germany
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Producers: Will Ferrell, Beau Flynn, Adam McKay, Kevin Messick
Screenplay: Tommy Wirkola
Special Effects: Gerd Nefzer, Bernd Rautenberg, Uli Nefzer
Visual Effects: Jon Farhat, Bryan Godwin, Ian Hunter , Mike Uguccioni
Cinematography: Michael Bonvillain
Score: Atli Örvarsson
Editing: Jim Page
Studios: MTV Films, Gary Sanchez Productions, Studio Babelsberg
Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Pihla Viitala, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Thomas Mann, Derek Mears, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Joanna Kulig, Bjørn Sundquist, Rainer Bock, Thomas Scharff, Kathrin Kühnel, Zoë Bell, Monique Ganderton
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Atli Örvarsson “The Fairy Tale”
 Atli Örvarsson “The Witch Hunters”
 Atli Örvarsson “Burn ‘Em All”
 Animal Alpha “Bundy”
I’ve always been a sucker for confectionery. Whether soft and chewy, crispy coated, or pretty much anything whatsoever containing chocolate, I’m powerless to resist its sickly charms. However, even my sweet tooth has its limits and I’d draw the line at an edible cottage deep in the Bavarian woods, no matter how ravishing its appearance. For this I have The Brothers Grimm to thank as their 1812 fairytale, Hansel & Gretel, reminded me that, while candy may taste rather delightful, it’s also the number one bargaining tool for any undesirables looking to snatch small children away into the shadows. A moment on the lips for these inquisitive siblings very nearly equated to a woefully short lifetime in the kiln, before a dash of eleventh hour quick thinking assisted them in turning the tables on their wart-ridden warden and allowed them to scurry free of her treacherous grasp, leaving her flaming in her own furnace. We all know the spiel by now I’m sure but such rich folklore is always open to reinterpretation and I count my happy gumdrops every time this particular dark fairy tale receives a makeover.
Step up Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola who took the Stateside commute after Nazi zombie-themed splatterfest Dead Snow and its über-batshit sequel Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead travelled so well across the Atlantic. He actually dreamed up the idea for Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters back in 2007 and, after successfully pitching it to Paramount Pictures, was granted the $50 million budget necessary to transport it from page to screen. Originally scheduled for a 2012 release, it was heavily delayed and eventually surfaced a year later, using 3D as its saleable gimmick. Regrettably the critics pretty much universally devoured Wirkola’s film, calling it out for its gratuitous violence and generally regarding it as a soiled bon-bon, not that this prevented it from clearing up at the box office to the tune of well over four times its original outlay (with an R-rating no less) and bagging itself sequel rights in the process. I’ve read some fairly damning indictments of this movie and have decided to redress the balance some as, while there’s no smoke without fire, such scalding seems utterly unjustified.
Ultimately it all boils down to what you expect from a movie like this. If you’re looking for a deep, meaningful translation of the Grimm fairytale from which it derives, then you may as well jog on by as Wirkola evidently has no intention whatsoever of massaging the grey matter. It’s as faithful as it needs to be while affording itself space to roam freely and the dual-pronged emphasis here is strictly on action and horror by the director’s frank admission. Those looking for historical accuracy may wish to tear his gingerbread house apart limb from sugary limb as there’s an unabashed contemporary feel to proceedings and a number of different periods are celebrated openly. This means gargantuan steampunk-inspired bazookas, a smattering of expletives, and no attempt to rein it in just to satisfy the purists. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is very much like hard candy as it may damn near shatter your teeth and provides precious little in the way of intellectual nourishment, but can’t be accused of not being sweet to the taste.
Our story begins, as very much expected, with the classic folklore from which it draws its inspiration and, within seconds, our unwitting titular ankle-biters have fallen foul of the witch’s toothsome ruse, been softened up some using the reverse of her palm, and enslaved pending the firing up of her faithful kiln. Yadda yadda yadda, we all know how this little transaction turns out and Wirkola supplies his bullet points briefly before whisking us away for a gloriously whimsical European-flavored animated credit sequence and unhanding us in the not-so-present day. Whenever will kids learn? Gain the upper hand on one screwy anthropophagous and they suddenly it’s witching season. That said, our all grown up Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) appear to take their role as bona fide she-devil busters reasonably seriously.
While the fast dwindling citizens of Augsburg are all ears to their game plan, cranky law enforcer Sheriff Berringer (the evergreen Peter Stormare) is less enamored with their meddling, particularly when it entails preventing him from burning any halfway hags at the stake without the necessary facts to back up his hard-line ruling. With tensions towering, it also doesn’t help that the town’s children are turning up missing with alarming frequency, presumably abducted by a coven of witches intent on casting an eternal spell of woe that would give them the edge over these pitiful peasants.
The Blood Moon sabbath soon cometh and, once they’ve obtained half a dozen boys and the same number of girls to sacrifice beneath its rosy red glow, they will be granted the immunity to fire that has eluded them for so long. For the record, the kid count currently teeters rather ominously at eleven, meaning Hansel & Gretel really had better get a wriggle on if history is to have any hope of repeating itself.
Opposing them in their bid to restore parity to Augsburg is maleficent high witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) and her somewhat uninspiringly named prize cronies Horned Witch (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), Red-Haired Witch (Joanna Kulig), and Tall Witch (all hail Aussie stunt idol Zoë Bell), along with a whole host of similarly inhospitable Quidditch rejects, all with their nitrous-fuelled broomsticks poised for lift off. Mad skills include the ability to turn the tables on their opponent via cobalt persuasion bolts from their fingertips and a fleetness of foot that makes these wenches infuriatingly hard to pin down with one’s turbo-charged crossbow. Janssen leads from the front with two-faced relish and, while never nearly as broad or memorable as Charlize Theron’s marvellously magisterial turn for Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman, Wirkola’s slender screenplay never intends on requesting so much of her.
While Hansel and Gretel may be reasonably adept in the art of whooping hag ass, they cannot hope to topple this titan terror without a little help from their friends and wistful honey-haired white witch Mina (Pihla Viitala) takes a shine to the former after he calls time on her public execution. After tending to his wounds, blessing his arsenal using her grimoire, and supplying him a dash of pre-business pleasure to ensure he only enters the fray with one loaded weapon, she dedicates herself willingly to the cause.
While Hansel is catching up on his daily oats, little sister has also managed to procure the undying devotion of another, although towering troll Ben (an unrecognizable Derek Mears) may find her corset a tad tricky to unfasten. Alas, he’s already on Muriel’s payroll and she wouldn’t take kindly to him fraternizing with supper, but the heart rules anything miniscule inside that bulbous head of his. Toss in star-struck aspiring witch hunter teen Ben (Thomas Mann) and the town mayor’s no messing deputy Jackson (Bjørn Sundquist) and a fair fight appears very much on the cards right?
Yeah, like fuck. You see, all those newt eyes and frog toes have to count for at least two of their daily five and Muriel’s girls have absolutely no inclination toward coming quietly or anything other than cackling apparently. That equates to all manner of snide tricks and a whole host of shenanigans, culminating in numerous rocket-propelled set pieces to swallow up those last few kitty krones. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters motors along at quite the breakneck velocity and never once sees fit to apologize for skimping on the dialogue, quite rightly I might add. Anyone familiar with Wirkola’s past exploits should be more than aware where he plants his flag and that is firmly and unashamedly in the entertainment camp. He delivers this like FedEx and, with a lean 88 minutes to populate, does so through an embellishment of flavorsome optical candies. Fuck nutrients, sometimes you just want to gorge yourself with sweet treats and there simply isn’t time on the clock for a sugar crash.
Renner has been a busy little A-lister of late and, while the movies he churns out haven’t necessarily showed up on my radar, I witnessed enough of his strong-chinned charm in Tony Gilroy’s The Bourne Legacy to feel more than comfortable in his presence. His witty anachronisms and bone-dry delivery manage to raise a few smiles, while Arterton acquits herself with similarly purposeful swagger. Regrettably she has to be content with riding shotgun for the most part as the lens romanticizes Renner’s features first and foremost and donates any scraps her way.
However, the true star of Hansel & Gretal: Witch Hunters is the spectacle itself. Boasting the kind of lavish production design that big bucks afford you, a thunderous score courtesy of Atli Örvarsson, and a whippet-like pace that seldom slackens, it certainly has the candy side of things sewn up. By the time Animal Alpha’s rip-roaring riff-heavy rabble-rouser Bundy is unleashed over the suitably snazzy end credit sequence and a potential franchise has been hinted at, any sweet teeth amongst us should have had more than their fill of the sugar rush provided. Just remember to pack your insulin.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Those accustomed to Wirkola’s profuse splatter are well catered for, with no end of flaying body parts, spraying arteries, pulverized heads, slicing, dicing, hanging, drawing and quartering on the platter. Any CGI used is generally up to snuff and my only criticism would be the speed with which the numerous acts of barbarism play out as a single blink of the eye could cloak much of the madness. That said, Wirkola comes good on the skin front, with Viitala’s exquisite nectarinal buttocks putting in a greatly appreciated cameo to jack our aching retinas up with nectar.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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